Our first year of truly living minimally is coming to a close, and we’ve almost crossed the finish line. I made the penultimate mortgage payment this weekend — my original payoff calculation was wrong because I didn’t take into account interest that would continue accruing throughout the year. So we’ll be done with the mortgage in February rather than January. But it’s so close we can taste it.
Reflecting back on the year, I feel as though we’ve run a marathon. We’re tired, ecstatic, and full of gratitude for the people who put up with our restrictions that didn’t always make sense to them.
Like a yearlong Lent, it’s been a period that reminded us of the difference between want and need. It showed us what compromises we’re willing to make and what luxuries make life worth living. It’s given us realistic expectations for retirement and shown us the power of autonomy, if you’re willing to keep the overhead low.
We weren’t perfect. Four months of the year we went over budget: $48 in May, thanks to that music festival in Ohio; $30 in June, because of several birthdays and a close friend’s wedding; $150 in July, when I lost my sweet Mom and wanted to take part in family activities and contribute to a blanket of flowers for her casket; and $300 in December, because I’m in idiot who refused to put money aside for Christmas, declaring that I would not be sucked into the chaos this year. Yeah, let me tell you how that went.
But when we went over budget one month, we tightened our belts and made up for it in others. So overall, we were $154 under for the entire year.
I can’t say enough about the usefulness of that budgeting spreadsheet. We still meticulously jot down every expense, and it’s helped us become mindful of how we choose to spend money.
We’ve learned that the thing we cherish most and aren’t willing to sacrifice is spending time with friends. But we’re just as content chatting away a leisurely Saturday morning at the bakery, where breakfast costs one-third that of dinner, so we can splurge three times as often.
We’ve learned that homemade soup and bread with our tribe is just as enjoyable, if not more so than a meal at a restaurant. Coffee and conversation at a friend’s pad or a whiskey in their kitchen is better than any bar or coffee shop in town.
We’ve learned that movies can wait for the dollar theatre; that the library is a hidden diamond; that things like art still matter, and it’s OK to hustle and sell stuff (though not plasma, Brad) to support artists and buy their works that will bring you joy.
Most importantly, we’ve learned that this lifestyle choice is not a hardship for us, and that there are plenty of hardworking people for whom a minimum-wage existence is all but unbearable. It can be startlingly expensive to be poor — from high-interest loans to astronomical medical fee structures for the uninsured to the simple frustration of not being able to buy fresh food in bulk from farmers when it’s cheap and abundant — and we are even more committed to combating poverty, especially when it comes to food justice.
We’ll continue living with this budget throughout 2017, allowing ourselves an extra $250 each month, which will give us a little breathing room and will be closer to our estimated retirement income. This time, though, instead of putting the extra money toward that mortgage, we’ll use it to finish renovating our last krakhaus.
Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, we’re taking the month of March off from the budget to let ourselves go crazy, spending what we would have on the mortgage for anything we want — this little spree will henceforth be known as “Brewster’s Millions.” We’ll report back on the binge, but I can already tell you, there will be comic books and folding commuter bikes in our future.
We hope all of you have a peaceful new year and are able to find creative ways to make life better for yourselves and for your communities.